Case Study / Movie Theater

Atlas EPS Geofoam Raises California Movie Theater Experience to New Heights

Moviegoers are flocking to theaters with stadium-style seating because every seat in the house offers an excellent view of the screen.

To create these unobstructed views, more and more stadium-style seating systems are being supported by Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) geofoam, which is made of the same EPS Hollywood production crews sculpt into movie sets, and is used in many other construction and packaging applications.

The $10 million City Centre Cinemas in Stockton, California, are no exception to the geofoam trend. Instead of a framework of steel studs and plywood or a million or more pounds of concrete, the seats in the theater’s 16 auditoriums are firmly supported by geofoam manufactured by Atlas EPS, a division of Atlas Roofing Corporation. On top of the foam base, the contractor placed waterproof gypsum board, a layer of metal and then 4” to 6” of concrete. The first-floor auditoriums come in several sizes, with the largest standing 40’ above ground level. A second-story, U-shaped mezzanine houses the projection room.

The theater is 70,505-square-feet, with 3,300 seats distributed throughout three different auditorium sizes, including two large 419-seat auditoriums. The medium auditoriums hold about 290 seats and the small ones contain about 220 seats. Adjoining the cinemas is 17,880-square-feet of retail space.

“The big trend is stadium seating,” said Bob Boggiano, project superintendent with Stockton-based F&H Construction. Anytime Boggiano can use geofoam for a theater project, he prefers it. “It’s just an easy way to do it,” he said. “It’s cheap. It’s fast.”

An upswing in the price of steel is another reason he selects geofoam instead of a metal beam and pan construction. And he likes the ease of hoisting, handling and installing of geofoam because of its light weight. The only metal used in the Stockton theaters geofoam project was the rebar and facers and some metal pans used to create the inclined walkways to the auditoriums.

In addition to the benefits of geofoam, working with Atlas EPS helped with the installation, Boggiano said. “This company, you give them plans and it comes all precut and numbered,” he said. It took just 1-1/2 days to place the foam into the 16 auditoriums with unskilled laborers doing the work. That was a savings of 1-1/2 weeks.

Mike Marsh, an account manager for White Cap Pro-Contractors Supply in Stockton, also said it was an “excellent” experience to work with Atlas EPS. “Foam is foam,” he said, explaining it was more than just the product that resulted in Atlas EPS being specified for the job. It was the customer service.

The Atlas EPS design team in Byron Center, Michigan, took the construction plans and created detailed installation drawings so the F&H crew knew where to place the blocks at the jobsite like a jigsaw puzzle. This also saved on waste at the jobsite. The foam blocks normally provide enough friction over their surface to be self-securing, but galvanized steel connector plates were added to fully immobilize them. Each block was manufactured to 32” x 42” x 46”. Unique sizes were kept to a minimum to simplify installation.

The 16-screen movie theater, located at one end of a downtown plaza, is an architectural highlight of Stockton’s urban redevelopment efforts. Some underutilized vacant buildings had been razed to make way for the theater and an 80’, steel-framed rotunda that marks the theater entrance. Inside the rotunda, specialty glass and porcelain panels round out the rotunda dome. The panels glow from the light of eight interior skylights aimed at them. The colored lights can be changed to be appropriate for every occasion from Christmas to Valentines Day, which is an element the “city felt would enhance the entrance to the building being that it was at an end of a plaza,” said Terry Woo, the project’s architect with Uesugi & Associates of San Francisco.

The Stockton cinemas are operated by Signature Theatres, which operates 281 screens located in 31 sites in 25 cities in California, Hawaii and Montana.

In addition to contractors paying less in labor costs for a geofoam application, owner representatives are paying more for it because of its advantages. Metal studs and wooden shear walls remain the cheapest, but not necessarily the quietest, option for theater construction, according to Michael Goakey, Signature’s vice president of construction.

“With a foam structure, we don’t get squeaking,” Goakey said. “That’s one nice advantage with concrete over foam, we don’t get any sounds out of it.” Among the high-quality innovations are double concrete walls between auditoriums, making each one virtually soundproof. Also, large amplified speakers behind the movie screen and baffled walls help project state-of-the-art sound at the audience.

In addition to construction-related benefits, geofoam is easier on the environment; it is especially useful for “green” building projects because it has outstanding thermal efficiency and is recyclable at the end of a building’s useful life. Geofoam by Atlas EPS has superior moisture resistance and can be cut to special shapes and thicknesses. Because geofoam is available with recycled content, contributes to energy efficiency and is recyclable, it is ideal for projects seeking credits from U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

Geofoam may contain some recycled content, or post-industrial polystyrene, and the amount can be adjusted during manufacturing to suit the needs of any project, according to Atlas EPS West Coast sales representative Jerry Jensen. Atlas EPS can measure — to a certainty of 1/10 of 1% accuracy — the amount of recycled post-industrial polystyrene in its geofoam.

This is important to California builders integrating “green” building materials and concepts into their designs for “fast-track” approvals from local governments. Several years ago, the sustainable building movement was considered to be a dream perpetuated by “tree-hugging” environmentalists, according to Jensen. “Now it’s becoming an economic advantage,” he said, explaining just a one week delay in the approval process can cost developers hundreds of thousands of dollars.